Falmouth, May 5th
Headquarters Co. G, 20 Mass.
Dear Fanny [his sister],
Here we are after three days hard work. I got here
Saturday at 5 P.M. and staid up at the Headquarters of the regiment till
11, when orders arrived to march instantly. We had a very jolly evening.
There are very few officers here, and all are perfectly social. A
Lieutenant slaps Macy on the back, etc. Entirely different way from large
It is an infernal shame that Revere is made Colonel. He
will meet a cold reception when he gets here. It is an infernal "Aule Ball
Bluff idea" that it takes an older man to handle an officer in the 20th
who could handle it so well as Capt. Ned Abbott or next to him Major Macy.
A little while ago a petition was sent to Andrew, signed by every officer
in the regiment and approved by every commander up to Hooker asking to
have Macy Colonel, but those civilians in Boston think they know best. The
officer who made the regiment what it is, is Abbott (class of '60) in
particular, and the other young officers, none of whom is over 26. Neither
Lee, Palfry and Revere ever knew half as much as Macy.
At 11 o'clock we marched till 4, halted an hour to wait
for a pontoon bridge to be built. The next morning we marched through
Fredericksburg and up towards the heights when the batteries opened on us.
The first shell fired whizzed within 5 feet of my head as I was kneeling
fixing my haversack and exploded behind me. We lay there a few minutes,
and it was there Holmes was wounded. I immediately took command of the
company and have kept them ever since, and probably shall. After lying
there a few minutes we advanced behind a wall and lay there till the
heights were cleared by artillery and 6th corps, and then we went up in
line of battle just in time to get a full charge of shells. The night we
fell back to Fredericksburg for no earthly object.
The next day we took position behind a long fence. The
rebs came back to the heights and 2 divisions advanced in line of battle,
but were driven back by our pickets and skirmishers. The bullets flew
pretty thick all day, and every now and then as some of us (officers) were
up on the hill the sharp shooters let drive at us. This ending at 4, I
went out with my company on picket. About 5 the rebs began to advance on
us. In fact, every time I went down from one post to another to keep a
look out the bullets whistled around me. At length Macy sent down orders
for me to fall back, so back we went as the regiment and all our brigade
recrossed to our old quarters.
We are waiting to hear the result of the fight on the
right. We know the 11th Corps has broken. By Jove, I hope they will shoot
every man of them. We have all done all we could. We drove the rebs twice
from their heights and will do it again if Gen. Hall will give the word,
but one brigade is not strong enough to hold them.
If Hooker is whipped there is no more fighting for us for
6 months. If not, we shall have a week longer tough work, and I hope we
shall. I want to see some good tough fighting and try a few bayonet
charges. I have a tip-top servant. It is mighty pleasant. Hard work, but
so much the better. Officers, every one nice fellows. I am officer of
provost guard for tomorrow.
I have got ahead rather faster than I expected to. To be
in action within 15 hours after I reported and have command of a company.
I can't be mustered in for some time, but as long as I have made 'every
effort' it is all that is necessary.
P.S. If you see O.W.H, Jr., tell him I have his company,
and they obey well.
Getting along faster then he had expected: that had
been Sumner's way first to last. His brother Charles had not yet even seen
combat on that date, after eighteen months in the army; the combat finally
came at Port Hudson, in late May. Nor had brother Bill, West Point class
of '58, seen combat. It was so ironic. Sumner, their youngest brother,
must have been breathless with the excitement of having his prayers
answered beyond his wildest imagining. If his first battle was a Union
defeat, for Sumner it was a personal victory.
In his most brilliant battle, Lee had made quick work of
Hooker with half the men and driven him back across the Rappahannock. And
now just as swiftly Lee headed north into Maryland. He left behind
Stonewall Jackson, who finally died on May 10, Sumner's eighteenth
The Battle of Chancellorsville, for all the exploits of
the Twentieth in the rear, cost the Union Army 17,000 lives, the most yet
suffered in one battle. Worse, of course, was yet to come. But before that
came six weeks for refreshment and reflection that gave more than a
balance to the soldier's life, the antithesis of frenzied combat that was
also its antidote. Sumner could read of tactics and classics. He could
slap the back of any officer there. He could plan each goal for his
continued meteoric rise among his peers. He could haze himself. He could
answer Father's and Fanny's letters.
22 Beacon St. Boston May 8,
I was very much gratified to get today your letter from
Fredericksburg of Monday afternoon. We were all very anxious to hear from
you. I had just met Col. Lowell and he told me Mr. Fox had just received a
letter from his son in the 20th (Adjutant I believe) giving a list of the
casualties in the regiment and not naming you. Fanny has just called to
take your letter. You speak of arriving at Falmouth yesterday,
dating your letter Monday, but we all feel sure you arrived
You must have had a lively time of it at once, and rather
a rough one when the rain came on.
I hope you will write all particulars, how you got on at
Washington and from there to Falmouth and whom you met there and what
company you joined. What is the letter of your Company? W. Holmes' Company
must be Company A, I suppose, as he is the oldest Captain.
Take good care of yourself, of your health in every way.
Avoid night air, all drafts, don't sleep on the ground. Avoid wet feet.
Have dry socks. Get your clothes washed, and keep yourself washed and
clean. Don't wear a sash or any ornament in battle and don't needlessly
expose yourself to danger.
I hope you have books of tactics to study. If you have
not, you must buy or borrow. At any rate study them. Charles Lowell is
ordered off on Tuesday.
The battle ended unfortunately but is to be renewed at
once and you will again be exposed. Be careful. I hope your Colonel,
Lieutenant Colonel, as well as Major are with you. Let me know in what
Brigade and Division you are, and all about your Regiment, and what
officers you know, and if you like them. Who you mess with, and how you
William and I were very sorry you did not come down. I
hope William will write you. He thinks a young officer is exposed to a
good deal of temptation which is sure to do him harm. I hope you will be
careful and avoid all temptations.
I returned to Boston Tuesday evening, having spent about
10 days very pleasantly with William and Hannah. Nothing from Charles. I
think it not unlikely he is in motion against Port Hudson from accounts in
the papers that an expedition was going down the Mississippi
against Port Hudson, and if so I infer the troops at Baton Rouge would
also move against it. All well here. Goodbye. God be with you and preserve
and bless you. I have no more time for the mail.
Your Affe. Father [Charles Cushing Paine]
Falmouth May 7, 1863
Here we are just where we started from, in very pleasant
quarters. Capt. Abbott, Lt. Summerhayes and myself have a very pleasant
room on the ground floor. The 20th is lucky. It is the only regiment
quartered in town.
I have got a tip top boy for a servant who is very active
and understands his business. The first thing he did was to catch a reb
horse, the most forlorn looking animal I ever saw, but he is good enough
to carry all my baggage on a march.
Here in Falmouth we live first rate, for we can get a
great many things of the Commissary and sutler, who by the way make no
scruple to stick on the prices. When we first set off I was in rather a
bad predicament, for I was just too late to draw any provisions, and we
were supposed to have enough for eight days. I intended to quarter myself
with Holmes, but he left us unexpectedly.
We got back here Tuesday night, and yesterday at nine
o'clock I was detailed from the regiment as officer of the brigade guard.
We were out 24 hours. My particular hours for being out on the picket line
were from 6 to 12 P.M. It was the hardest rain storm I have seen for a
year, the mud was a foot deep and the line of pickets a mile long, and
besides it was so dark you couldn't see five feet.
I didn't feel particularly good humored, and I got hold
of a picket from the 127th Pennsylvania whose time is up in a day and gave
him an awful dressing, and have reported him this morning to be tried by
General Court Martial for desertion of his post.
I was mustered in this morning. It has been rather a joke
here. We went into action with two civilians. One, the commanding officer
Macy, who had just been mustered out as Major and not yet mustered in as
Lieutenant Colonel, and myself, commanding a company. By the way, I shall
keep command of my company, Macy says, the rest of the time till Holmes
returns, which won't be before an awfully long time, if he ever does.
With the exception of doing picket duty in a northeaster
every thing I have had to do has been mighty pleasant. The more I see of
the life the more I like it. I wouldn't exchange for a staff position for
anything, besides there being so few officers present it is not considered
comme il faut here. Nearly every officer here has been offered a
fine position, but has refused it for that reason.
If things work right I shall be First Lieutenant in a
month or so. There are only 3 Second Lieutenants ahead of me. There will
be one promotion in a day or two, and there ought to be 3 or 4 more soon.
When I am First Lieutenant, I shall try to get the Adjutancy of the
As the lull continued, Sumner
betrayed his bookish side to Fanny, and his sisterly confidante seemed to
understand him and the war intimately.
Falmouth, May 7, '63
Please get for me the smallest edition of the 5 parts of
Les Miserables in one volume, in English, and send it by mail. Also
Harper's edition (like that Cicero de Amicitia) of the Odyssey in
Greek (2 vols., I believe) and send them by mail, for I shall be wanting
such things often. I will pay you for them all at once. I have just been
mustered in as 2nd Lieutenant commanding Co. G, which I shall keep, as
Macy says, till Wendell returns.
May 11, 1863
Your letter came this morning. I was so glad to get it! I
see you are in the right place. You have found your element at last.
Better than hazing professors, isn't it? I am thankful you got safely
through your first battle without a scratch, and every day at such times
must be worth months of common drill towards making a soldier of you. I'm
glad you got down in time to have had your share in this fight. We have
watched Hall's Brigade in the papers most narrowly, and were so thankful
that it was not "cut to pieces" or "swept away." If Hooker fulfills
people's expectations, he will push on, and will have bayonet charges to
your heart's content, dear laddie!
How did you feel when the shot first wounded others round
you? Did you think perhaps your turn would come next? Or didn't you think
at all? Were you excited? Did you keep a cool head to know what you were
about and to carry out orders?
I think you have got on fast indeed. And I do not doubt
but you fully merit confidence.
With regard to Revere, I agree with you that young men
with a good deal of experience, say even as young as 20, are fit to
be colonels. But Revere is only one year older than Charles. So he is not
antiquated, and however good an officer Lt. Col. Macy or any other may be,
each, in the army, must bide his turn. Lee and Palfry having resigned, it
is Revere's turn to be Colonel, he being a perfectly fit man, and having
no staff appointment, he would be out of the army were he not replaced in
the 20th. I think it would be very hard treatment for him if he were left
out. You see, Sumner, you having special aptitude, and experience coming
fast, might in a few months be fit to be a Major. But you couldn't for all
that be one in the 20th until your turn came.
Let me give one wee bit of advice, dear Sumner. And that
is to remember subordination and not to criticize commanding officers,
whether captains, colonels, governors or the government. It isn't military
to do so. William, I have noticed, when speaking of a battle, is cautious
in the use of language. Excuse me this small lecture, dear Sumner. I won't
indulge it any more, only you know I love you so much, and am and hope
always to be very proud of you.
Various people have inquired after you, George Goddard
and Robert Bancroft of your class, and of course all the ladies, but
they don't interest you yet, I suppose.
It was an awful day here, the day we heard Hooker had
recrossed. The story was, he had been awfully beaten. It was horrible. But
since we have learned the truth, everyone is hopeful and determined.
Your stocks stay up and gold goes down. Father has
returned to Mrs. Appleton's. I don't know whether he has any plan yet for
We are all in the dark as to your next movements, but,
dear boy, you will write always at once when there has been any action,
for our anxiety is intense naturally. And write Mother as well as Father
because if he were off we shouldn't know.
I am so glad you find the officers all so pleasant. Is
there any other Lieutenant in your company?
It looks as though Grant might really take Vicksburg from
behind. Write often, my dear Sumner, and tell us all, and we'll tell you
anything that happens.
I should like to have a good hug and kiss. But pazienza.
Some day you'll return with your laurels. How glad we shall be to see
Your loving sister,
Mother wrote to you a week ago yesterday. Best love and
kisses from us all. O.W.H., Jr. is in Philadelphia. Will come home this
22 Beacon Street Boston
May 12, 1863
I got a letter from you today and Fanny one yesterday. We
are very much amused at you military experiences and progress. Mr. Backus
thinks you will wake up some morning and find yourself a Brigadier
I hope you will be prudent in not expressing opinions,
and certainly not against Revere and Shephard. Whatever the Regiment may
have wished, still the deed is done, they are appointed, and are to be the
officers in future, and it will be well for you in every way to cultivate
this good will.
You must be careful in battle or when exposed to
sharpshooters not to expose yourself unnecessarily. I fear you do not
realize there is any danger, and you seem to consider the whole thing a
hazing frolic or college prank of barring up tutors or the like.
Dr. Hill still thinks you had better explain your being
in Cambridge on Monday before you left. What he means I do not know. I
presume it is in reference to the faculty rescinding the vote of
suspension, as I asked him to do. Were you there on Monday and if so did
you do anything to give offense to the College Government?
I am glad you are well quartered and have pleasant
messmates. You must look out that your tip top servant boy don't steal
your eye teeth, which he probably will, and as to that skeleton horse of
yours you must learn to provide food for him without drawing for it. You
must be prudent in money matters and not draw in advance on the Quarter
master or sutler. I had a letter from Charley yesterday...all quiet and
What is your pay as 2d Lieutenant, and from what time do
Be prudent, careful and cautious, and use good judgment
Goodbye, Write as often as you can, your aff Father
Falmouth, Va., May 14.
We have been here over a week now--perfectly quiet with
no signs of advance. The only thing we have to occupy time is a dress
parade, followed now and then by a drill.
Revere hasn't assumed command yet. I suppose you have
learnt from Wendell the state of the feelings of the regiment in regard to
him and a few officers who are at home. Revere is however treated
perfectly pleasantly by all the officers.
I wish you would send me by mail a pair of white cotton
gloves size 8 1/2, the best you can get. Also all those photographs of me
which I gave you and by express a good small writing case with ink,
etc., in it and a quantity of nice paper and envelopes, as small a one as
As soon as we begin any hard marching, if it is much
hotter, I may send my overcoat home. If I do, I suppose you can take care
of it till next autumn. If you haven't sent those books I asked for,
please send them as soon as you can. We don't have anything to do from 6
A.M. till 10 P.M. but an hour's drill, and I want something to read.
Captain Curtis has arrived here, and so I being junior
officer have been relieved of my high command and returned to Company I
under Little Abbott, which I am glad of, for he is the best officer in the
regiment, and I have a chance to learn all the small details of military
discipline, which otherwise I wouldn't do.
Henry Ropes left today for Boston in a ten days furlough.
It is the first time he has been home since he joined the regiment, a year
ago last December. He is a good officer and one of the jolliest fellows
here. They say that now is the first time since the regiment left home
that all the officers in the field are pleasant capable officers.
There is one Lieutenant promoted from Sergeant a month
ago named Summerhayes, who is a first rate fellow. He is in our mess. He
comes from Nantucket, where nearly all of Company I hail from. I hope we
shall drop in and make a call at Fredericksburg before long. This life is
too lazy, and we don't even get the advantage of drilling.
P.S. Pat Jackson has ridden over here several times.
Falmouth, Va., May 20, 1863
Everything is going on quietly here now. We have a drill
of some kind every afternoon. Until the last two days it has been
Battalion drill, but yesterday we had a Division drill, and the day before
a Brigade. We are to have a brigade drill every day now. Our brigade
commander, Colonel Hall, is one of the best officers in the army. He was a
classmate of Bill's at West Point and would have been a Brigadier General
a long time ago if he hadn't been on McClellan's staff. If he hadn't been
remarkably cool at Fredericksburg, our whole brigade would have been cut
to pieces. He handled us splendidly. He was one of the officers at Fort
Sumter and had just been paroled, so he couldn't fight. But he stood up on
the top and held the colors in his hand during the fight.
I am in Company I now (Abbott's Company). Captain Curtis
has returned, so there are eleven officers, and I being the junior officer
act as Lieutenant. Company I is the best drilled company in the regiment,
and Captain Abbott is the best officer this regiment has ever had. He
could handle a brigade better than half the Brigadier Generals in the
service. Whenever he is engaged I have command of the company, so that I
like this way better than commanding Company G.
The weather is splendid just warm enough. We take a bath
every morning before breakfast.
In regard to what Dr. Hill said, the case was this. I
supposed the matter was all settled, that he knew I was going to leave,
and I went out to take some books from my room and to bid some of the
fellows good bye. I went out at 4, and came in a little while after
The pay of 2nd Lt. is $ 45.00
The servant's is I believe deducted from our pay if he is
like mine taken from the ranks. The rest is paid over. Our food we have to
pay cash down, also everything except what we get from the sutler, which
is nothing to speak of. Living is pretty expensive here. Our mess for four
costs nearly $25.00 a week and our quarters $10.00 per month.
Where do you expect to be this summer? At West Point and
Saratoga like last summer?
Here was the last letter
Sumner received from his father.
May 26, 1863
I got yours of the 20th yesterday and was very glad to
hear from you. Times are likely to be dull on the Rappahannock for a
while, but it is all the better for you to have time to drill and
manoeuvre and learn the minutiae of camp and soldier life.
I hope you will be able to lay up for yourself a good
deal of money. You can if you are prudent. Fanny says Wendell Holmes did.
It seems to me absurd to pay $24 a month for a servant, nearly a dollar a
day. That same servant could answer for several.
In Charles' company the 3 officers only had a nig. boy. I
doubt if they paid him much of anything. Charly is a hard character to get
money out of. When he pays money he gets the full good of it.
I have business in Washington which will lead me to go
there in a day or two and I shall hope to come down and see you. All well
Great news from Vicksburg. The backbone of the Rebellion
Charles and Sumner, oldest and youngest sons, were so
much in their father's thoughts. Unfortunately, he and Sumner could not
get together after all. On June 3 their father wrote from Willard's Hotel
in Washington that permits were only issued to see the sick and wounded.
The next day he had no trouble seeing Attorney General Bates, Secretary of
War Stanton, and President Lincoln himself, on Charles' behalf,
recommending him for promotion to Brigadier General. But Sumner was
undeterred, and had his hands full establishing his authority in a
May 27th 1863
Dear Mamie [another sister],
I got your letter with the gloves and photographs. The
writing case hasn't got along yet, but I suppose it will soon. I am much
obliged to you for getting it to me.
The paymaster was here two days ago and paid us up to May
1st. It didn't affect me as I don't draw pay till May 2nd when I reported
for duty. They are going to pay us every two months now. The result was
yesterday when I was on guard I had my hands full. For liquor will pass
the lines. The 2nd Lieutenant Kelliher who commands Company F has been
placed in arrest for neglect of duty, today. His company is a disgrace to
the regiment. There is no discipline and the men are dirty (i.e., in
comparison with the other companies).
There are several jail birds in the company. I had to go
in their quarters to arrest one man who was drunk, and I saw what a crowd
I had to deal with, so an hour later when I had to take a fellow who is a
prize fighter and a murderer, I just took my revolver and went in, and the
moment they began to make a fuss, I told them I should shoot the first who
resisted. The result was they became remarkably mild.
I was at headquarters all day today giving my testimony
to Lt. Col. Macy who has been trying men by regimental court martial. I
suppose they will all be sentenced to lose a month's pay. They mind that
especially when pay day comes. The General Courts Martial are abominable.
One man, Noonan, who deserted in the face of the enemy and who would have
been shot dead on the spot if an officer had seen him, was tried and
instead of being sentenced to death was ordered to carry 45 lbs. 4 hours
for 15 days, not so bad a sentence as a man had who said to me he didn't
care when I threatened to punish him. Gen. Gibbon says he is perfectly
tired of disapproving these light sentences. The men now actually ask to
be tried by General Court Martial in preference to a regimental one.
Colonel Revere I guess has a pretty lonely time of it.
Not an officer speaks to him except officially or goes near him and he can
hear all of them having a jolly time in Macy's room which is over his.
Macy is a splendid man and a fine officer though by no means so good as
Capt. Abbott who is a remarkably fine one.
I will answer all other letters soon when I have more
time as I am rather crowded now, for we are short of officers here while
some lazy fellows are loafing at home.
Falmouth, Va. June 5th, 10 P.M.
I have just got the writing case and it a first-rate one.
It was just in time for we are to cross tomorrow at daybreak. The fight
was begun on the left and they are laying a bridge right opposite the left
of our division. When our division goes, our regiment will lead the way,
and Company I is right flank or leading Company, so there is a chance of a
warm time. So much the better.
Sumnerís brother Charles had been reported dead in the
fighting on May 27 at Port Hudson. Their father had returned to Boston to
find the news that his son whose promotion he had sought in Washington had
been killed. The Traveller of June 8 both listed the death and added that
with William and Sumner also in uniform the great grandsons of the old
Revolutionary Patriot Robert Treat Paine were doing their full share to
defend the Union.
Perhaps Sumner had died a little as he learned the news
in camp, and was given a day or two to sense the loss of a brother, to
imagine a future without him, to try to reconcile himself to the huge void
where once there had been vitality. Life without Charles would never be
the same! This fluke incident granted Sumner his last chance to share with
Bob, Bill and the sisters a personal experience binding them all more
closely together as a family, even though scattered: the experience of
losing a sibling in war. Sumner himself had a chance to see how it felt.
In any case, no one had to grieve long; they soon knew better. On June 9
You no doubt had the dreadful news of Charley's being
killed at the assault on Port Hudson. It came Sat. morning just as I
arrived from Washington.
Yesterday General Butler had a letter from the Postmaster
at New Orleans giving the casualties and mentioning General Payne late
Colonel of the 4th Wisconsin killed, which made us feel that it might not
Today we have the glorious news that C. is unharmed and
alive and well.
It has been an awful time with us all.
Your affe Father
Chas. C. Paine
22 Beacon Street, June 9, 1863
In fact, Charles' true fate was that two days after the
assault, one Colonel C. J. Paine had been given command of the First
Brigade, First Division, Nineteenth Corps.
By the time Sumner received his father's letter, Sumner
had already deduced Charles' true fate. He also confessed to some rather
firm opinions on the use of colored troops. As yet, they had not been
tested, really tested, under fire. Was the notion just another Boston
conceit? Sumner was skeptical, in the last weeks before the Fifty-Fourth's
assault on Fort Wagner, and eighteen months before Charles' own successes
as newly appointed Brigadier General of the Third Division (colored),
Eighteenth Corps, on the James River in 1864.
Falmouth, June 11
I have just got your letter and Mother's giving that
rumor about Charl. I saw it in the Washington Chronicle Sunday. Capt.
Abbott and I both rushed (his brother is on Dwight's staff) to look at the
list, and the first name I saw was Charl's. I felt sad enough. But from
what I saw in the papers I doubted its correctness, and Wednesday I saw a
piece in the N.Y. Herald which contradicted it flatly. I then considered
that it was only a report got up by some person who knew nothing about
What is Father's address? Is he in Boston? He wrote me
from Washington but I didn't get the letter in time to answer it while he
was there. I don't know where he is. I wrote last week expecting to cross
the river that night but the orders were countermanded at midnight.
No one seems to know what is going on here. We have been
under marching orders for a week.
Tomorrow we have a monthly inspection. We have a
Battalion drill every afternoon. Capt. Abbott is on a Court Martial so I
always command the right flank company, our company. I have got now so
that I can handle a company on drill as well as most of the other officers
Mother says Shepley has recommended Charl for Brigadier
General. I suppose in that case he will have it. I hope so. By the way,
send me a quantity of postage stamps.
The 2d Louisiana Negro regiment lost in killed 600 men
out of 900!! Anyone who knows anything about troops and war knows
that is humbug. The 20th Mass. at Fredericksburg in December lost
170 out of 300 in two days fight only by holding a position where not
another white regiment in the army dared to support it.
Perhaps Negro troops will fight better than that. Doubtless 600
were missing. When 600 of a good fighting Massachusetts regiment are
missing you can take it for granted they are killed and wounded. When 600
of a Pennsylvania regiment are missing it isn't always so!
Sometimes they turn up afterwards. Possibly 599 of those 600 niggers may
report for duty in a few days.
If only Sumner had joined Charles in Louisiana and in the
Richmond campaign: then he would have seen what "niggers" in his Third
Colored Division could do--win Medals of Honor. Boston had taken this
grand idea for its own--not just the radical abolitionists, and more
reasoned writers, but the soldiers like opportunist Butler and idealist
Falmouth, Va. May 13[editor's note: this letter was likely sent on June
I got your letter yesterday. I haven't written before
because I didn't know where you were. I didn't get your letter from
Washington till Saturday afternoon. I am confoundedly sorry you couldn't
get a pass.
You ought to see this regiment. It is small. On drill and
parade we never turn out more than a hundred and fifty, and there are
about fifty more for guard.
I have just come off guard and am so sleepy I can hardly
keep awake. I was up nearly all night going round. It isn't necessary now,
everything is so quiet; but the Officer of the day was unwell, so I took
his work, too. We expect to move any minute.
If Bill is relieved from duty at Portsmouth he had better
be made Brigadier General and take this brigade which is now commanded by
Colonel Hall of his class. It is the best brigade in the army. Barlow
tried to get it, but couldn't. It is the best thing he can do.
Charl will be a B.G., I hope. He ought to be.
Orders have just come to pack up instantly to start. I
will write again as soon as I get a chance. Possibly we shan't move, for
we have a good many false alarms of this kind.
Lee's Army was poised for a second summer thrust into the
Free States. The Union Army still played its frustrating game of reaction
rather than initiative. On May 15th Sumner's Twentieth Massachusetts,
playing rear guard to the Union Army's slow pursuit of Lee, marched north
past Stafford Court House and bivouacked on Acquia Creek, after a
blisteringly hot march. A day and another hot march later brought them to
Occoquan Creek, where they cooled their heels in clear water. Then
followed Sanger's Station, Centreville, and on the 21st they passed over
the still fields of the Bull Run battlefield and arrived at Thoroughfare
Gap in the evening. Here came a four-day reprieve, and time for letters,
including letters to his father and mother that were to be their
Thoroughfare Gap, June 23,
We are camped here in the woods and very likely shall
stay here for some time. We have had pleasant weather the last month and a
half, until we started on the march, and since then most of the time it
has rained. This is about as pleasant a life as I ever saw.
The marching is hard work for the men. The first day I
had two men faint while I was calling the roll after we got in. I don't
mind it at all but like it, for I don't carry any baggage. Having a horse,
I make him carry all my baggage and my servant's too and at that can carry
more than I otherwise should. Every officer in the regiment now has a
horse so we manage to live pretty well. I get ahead of most of the other
officers. The Quarter master has only one horse and is allowed two, so as
he is not allowed to draw commutation value for forage not drawn, I get
him to keep my horse, and it don't cost me anything. The only trouble is
that the beast is branded U.S. and so can be seized at any moment. Except
for that brand I could sell him for seventy-five dollars. As it is I
couldn't get twenty for him.
I have been studying up this last month on Battalion
drill and I have got the hang of it pretty well. I wish we had more
Brigade drill for I don't understand that very well yet, however there are
only half a dozen movements and can be learnt in one day after you know
Battalion drill. It isn't necessary for anyone in a regiment to know them
except the Colonel, but I want to get the hang of them.
I have got command of a company now, Company A. How long
I shall have it I can't tell. The Lieutenant who commands it has gone home
sick. I like having one now for I have been under Capt. Abbott's tutelage
a month as Lieutenant and can command one now I think.
Holmes is not senior Captain. He is 4th Captain, and if
he was it wouldn't make any difference in the letter of his Company, which
is G, for the letters of a company never change, whatever the rank of its
captain. We have no Major now. Shephard was commissioned some time ago but
can't get mustered in till he comes out here, which he isn't fool enough
to do, for if he did he would be sent before a board of examination as
incompetent. He will probably be mustered out of the service if he
stays away much longer, for an officer is liable to be who is away 2
months. That will make Abbott Major, as I suppose Holmes of course won't
take it, unless he will be able to take the field soon. For in this
regiment an officer who is away a long time wounded loses his promotion.
I see Lt. Col. Everett 2d Louisiana is wounded. Badly? I
am going to write to Charl and ask him if there will be any vacancy there
next autumn. I had rather be in the 20th than in any other regiment in the
army so far as the regiment itself is concerned, and the officers in it.
It is the most experienced one in the whole army. But in spite of that I
had rather be down with Charl next autumn if he has got a vacancy. He will
be a Brigadier General by that time I suppose. Abe L. is more of a fool
than I think if he (Charl) isn't. What is Charl's address? I have got to
go out on picket now so Goodbye, Yr Aff. Son, Sumner Paine
June 24, 1863
Here we are encamped in the woods in as pretty a place as
I ever saw. I have just come in from picket where I have been for the last
twenty-four hours. There is a quantity of reb cavalry about which are in
the habit of making a dash at the outposts, and I thought there might be
one where I was, so I threw up a breastwork and was all ready for them,
but I am sorry to say none appeared.
We have been having some fine work marching. The other
day we started from Centreville at 12.30 P.M. and marched till 11 o'clock
without stopping except five minutes now and then to rest. We passed over
the battlefield of Bull Run. It rained hard most of the time and the mud
was five inches deep. The night was the darkest one I ever saw, and as we
were not marching on any road, we kept stumbling into ditches and mud
holes and over logs and trees. We were the rear regiment in the brigade,
and after emerging from a mud hole we discovered that we were lost, for it
was impossible to see a man more than two feet off. At last one of Col.
Hall's aides came and brought us to the regiment and we went on again all
right for five or ten minutes. I upset in a ditch about that time and was
running on to get to my company (I command Company A now) which is 3rd in
the line and asked a man near me what Company he belonged to. He said H.
This rather astounded me as H is the last company, and I knew I wasn't so
far to the rear as that. I asked him if he didn't belong to the 20th, and
he said he was of the 125th Mass., and the 20th had gone to the left. I
started off in that direction to find it and came across Ropes, who was in
the same fix. Finally we found that the 125th, which belongs to another
brigade, and the 20th were all mixed up together. After about an hour we
succeeded in getting all the 20th into a field at one side with the
exception of the first two companies, which were ahead. So we went to work
to form into line. I of course then had the head of the line, and as I was
collecting my men, we all fell into a ditch about 4 feet deep full of
water. However, at last we all got together and camped there, but it was
so dark that it was impossible to collect any fuel, and we had to sleep
The next morning we were waked up early and ordered to
fall on instantly. So we started off on the march then without having
tasted a morsel of food for twenty-four hours. However, we only came here
which is about two miles and here we have stayed ever since.
They say that now "Joe Hooker has got the rebs just
where he wants them." If that is the case we had better look out for
ourselves. We tried that dodge once before at Chancellorsville and no one
here wants to try it again.
I suppose now we shall be here some time. I hope so for
it is a pleasant place and I had rather camp here than anywhere else
provided we can't have some action campaigning.
How is O.W.H.? Does he expect to be able to ever get back
here or is he going to be lame always? We only get the mail now about once
in five days and we are expecting one now every minute. Goodbye now, Your
Aff. Son, Sumner Paine
On the 25th, enthusiasms rekindled, but wary of Jeb
Stuart's cavalry forays, the Twentieth marched again. Heavy rain fell in
the afternoon as they went into camp at Gum Springs. The next day,
Saturday the 27th, they crossed the Potomac at Edwards Ferry, returning to
ground familiar to veterans of the Twentieth. They camped at Sugar Loaf
Mountain. At Monocacy Junction, on the 28th, they learned that Hooker had
From now on it was to be Meade's pursuit. Headquartered
at Frederick, in the central part of Maryland, with his corps spread over
a vast panorama of farmland, Meade knew that Early's depredations were
going unchecked, and that Lee's main army had disappeared from sight,
maybe fifty, maybe a hundred miles off to the north. Repeating the success
of the summer before, when Antietam had been his theatre, Lee now pushed
farther north than Confederate forces had ever come. He was threatening
Harrisburg, perhaps Philadelphia! Any report of success, and the British
might finally recognize Southern independence. Succeeding to a string of
discarded Generals of pomp and puffery, Meade offered fresh hope.
Untried in the command of great armies, nevertheless
Meade instantly gave chase. And when the armies met, as they inevitably
would, no one doubted that Meade, no Hooker, would not flinch. And so when
the Twentieth woke up in Frederick on the morning of the 29th, the whole
army was set in motion. Ahead they would for certain meet Lee once again,
and this time, on their side of the Potomac, they must, officers and men,
Meade's resolve took immediate effect up and down the
line. After the longest march of the war, the Twentieth came to Uniontown,
exhausted. There it remained a day.
Sumner had meant to write a letter to his old chum George
Goddard, then between his sophomore and junior years in the Harvard Class
of '65. It was the last letter.
Uniontown, June 30
Maryland My Maryland
Excuse my not answering before, but I have been too busy.
Here we are heading, as far as we can see, towards Philadelphia. We have
been having some deuced long marches. Yesterday we went thirty miles, the
longest march ever made by a corps in this country. By Jove, I never want
to go through such a thing again. Personally I didn't feel it in the
least, but the responsibility of taking charge of the men is awful. The
last two miles I was afraid that half my men would give out. Company
commanders were forbidden by general orders from allowing men out, so we
made them march as long as they could stand on their pins. As it was, I
had three men faint away in the ranks. You must remember that thirty miles
marching in column is as much as fifty when alone.
Today we have a rest, and I have just been out on a
foraging expedition with Capt. Patten. We have grown tired of hard tack
and ham and thought we would see what we could get. So after wandering
over the country for a few hours, we came to the picket line and found the
officer of the picket was a man we knew, so he took us in to dine with him
at a farm house, and I tell you it was a dinner we don't see every day.
In the town of Union which is half a mile from here the
women were at work all night making bread and pies for the soldiers. It is
a blessing to get into civilized country. In Virginia we only saw a house
once in five miles, and that was generally deserted, but here the fields
are all cultivated and the roads are lined with houses.
We are at work today making out payrolls. I hope the
paymaster will make use of them soon and visit us, but I rather doubt it.
We haven't had a mail for a fortnight or seen a newspaper, so we are in
the dark as to what is going on in the civilized world.
I suppose you have been in Beverly for a long time. Are
you going to be there all vacation or going off shooting? Vacation will
have about begun I suppose by the time this reaches you. I must stop now,
as it is time for Inspection. Excuse this pencil but ink is played out
here. Write. Your Aff. Friend S. Paine
There was never an opportunity to mail the letter. Nor to
receive this from his father, written one week before Sumner's death, when
everyone knew that a great contest was in the offing.
22 Beacon St Boston
June 26, 1863 Friday
Your letters come few and far between. Your last of the
13th from Falmouth reached me the 20th at Portsmouth, where I was making a
short visit to William and Hannah. Since then you have had stirring times
and I fear pretty long and hot marches. I hope you have been able to
endure them. But it will require extreme care and caution now to keep your
health. You are young, and though strong, the constitution never has so
much toughness and power of endurance as when older. Avoid night air,
sleeping on the ground, wet clothes, or sitting or being in a draft of
air. Drafts of air are the greatest of all exposures, because so
enticing and seemingly so harmless. Be prudent and get as much regular
sleep as you can. Keep yourself well washed and clean, and have clean
clothes next your skin.
Before long you will very likely be fighting. Be sure to
write instantly both right before and right after any battle, fight, or
I hope you like your field and other officers and are
having a comfortable and pleasant time.
This invasion of Pennsylvania is making a great stir, and
will lead to hard fighting. You saw that Maj. Henry Higginson was wounded.
Write often. Your Affe Father
Lt. Paine and the 20th
Mass at Gettysburg
On the evening of June 30, Gen. Meade learned that the
Confederates were gathering at a small town called Gettysburg. On July 1,
the Twentieth headed north. At noon they had reached Taneytown, where they
expected to camp for the night. Only when General Gibbon suddenly took off
in an ambulance, with his horse led along by an orderly, did the Twentieth
suspect that some crisis must have already occurred, and that perhaps the
battle they knew to be inevitable was at last being joined. In the
confusion of rumors and speculation, no one yet knew that General Reynolds
had been killed at Gettysburg in the opening of battle with Lee's armies,
and that Meade had directed General Hancock to turn over command of the
entire Second Corps to its Second Division commander, General Gibbon.
Ten miles' march along the Taneytown Road brought them
within earshot of distant booms and with a mirage of smoke rising in the
haze. At the end of ten more miles' march that lay ahead, the role of the
Twentieth was not again to be relegated to the sidelines of a great battle
as had been their fate at Chancellorsville. That last time, confined to
the enemy's rear, far from the center of the battle, they had taken a
height, taken prisoners, retreated, and taken the height again, only to
see the battle lost. Now as they were marching in late season to a battle
already enjoined, they little suspected that, this time, they would find
themselves at its epicenter.
They arrived late Wednesday to the news that the First
Corps had sustained huge losses--they would total 6,000 men--and that its
shaken remnants were being regrouped at Cemetery Hill. The arrival of
Hancock ahead of his corps, of which the Twentieth was a part, rallied the
First Corps sufficiently to check the onslaught of Lee's forces. Hancock
laid out the line, from Cemetery Hill south as far as the Round Tops,
across the almost featureless ridge of open farmland that was dealt them.
The Twentieth was hastily put into position to the right of the left wing,
near the Round Tops. Meade himself would not arrive until that night.
The morning of July 2, Thursday, the soldiers of the
Twentieth awoke early to a sultry overcast sky. With barely time to finish
breakfast, they were moved north to a position in the center of the Union
line, facing west across the Emmitsburg Road. God, it was exposed. There
was only a low wall with a rail fence! Eight tenths of a mile to the west,
the enemy was spread along a backdrop of woods. Other than that, no
protection strongly favored either side, facing each other a mile apart on
two parallel ridges, Cemetery and Seminary. But Meade's army held the less
substantial ridge. There were no heights, no wilderness, no water. There
were just men, backed by artillery, all in the open.
As Lee hesitated, there was time to throw up a small
breastwork. Lieutenant Paine's Regiment had a single spade for the job.
They had removed rails from atop the low stone wall and with these and
some earth made a low rampart, leaving a trench no more than a foot deep.
This was to be the line drawn in the dirt.
As Meade had decided, he would let Lee come at him once
again, and as Lee had decided, he would attack again.
They had time to hear the effects of Lee's attacks at
left and right, struggling to wrest the advantage of the Round Tops and
Cemetery Hill. Nothing had yet happened to them yet. Maybe it was to be
like Chancellorsville after all. The Twentieth had time to think of what
Then, late in the afternoon, around six, they sustained
some shellfire. The shock of shellburst too close for comfort caused many
in Company A to be rolled over on the ground. Sumner was wounded slightly
in the process, but it was nothing more than a scratch in the face from a
small shell fragment.
He knew himself to be lucky. Not far away lay Col.
Revere, mortally wounded by shot from a canister. How ironic a fate for
the maligned, antiquated Revere. Now what did Sumner think of him? At
day's end, ten thousand had been killed on both sides of the bountiful
valley of wheat and cornfields. As a cloudy nightfall shrouded the fallen,
lanterns darted among them like fire flies. Soldiers and officers from the
Twentieth spent part of that night helping to bring the wounded to the
rear. But there were too many for one night's work, and the living needed
sleep. Many of the bodies would still remained unfetched by daybreak. When
it was allowed, a sleep more tremulous and more profoundly welcome than
that of the night before came at last for men and officers, lying in the
open, near the wall that for some was to be their last shelter on earth.
At Meade's meeting with his generals in a farmhouse not
far behind the lines, the high command decided to stay and let Lee attack.
As the meeting broke up, Meade turned to Gibbon and confided prophetic
words: "John, if General Lee attacks tomorrow, it will be on your line. He
has been repulsed on both ends and must try the center."
Friday began in a morning of profound silence. It was to
be another scorchingly hot day for a fight. While the confederates were
sheltered in the shade of woods, the Union men were half dozing to the hum
of honeybees and din of crickets. They affixed white canvas to bayonets in
an impromptu display not of resignation but hostility to the almost
How strange seemed that last comparative calm. How alone
with his thoughts was every man in that vast silent crowd, waiting,
waiting. First Lieutenant Henry Ropes, fresh back from furlough, was
reading his Dickens, alone with thoughts far from that time or place.
Suddenly, pointlessly, he was shot dead by friendly misfire from the New
York battery fifteen feet behind the line. Few tears are usually shed over
deaths in action, fewer still over deaths in inaction, but that morning
officers and men wept over Lieutenant Ropes. It was possible to
read a book and still command respect. For those who were to follow him so
soon after that, there would be no time for weeping.
Meade, the imperturbable, was riding up and down the
entire line to let all seventy thousand men see him and renew their
confidence. Meanwhile Lee had begun the day's attack on Meade's right,
then tried his left, and as these attacks had failed, decided to try the
center. Pickett's seasoned Virginians were rested; they would lead the
attack. As the lowest and most exposed ground, the Union center was most
heavily manned. At the center of the center, the Twentieth waited.
At 1 P.M. the wait ended. Like the advance tremor of a
thunderous earthquake, a signal cannon pierced the air, then another. All
along Lee's line, Confederate gunners sprang to their feet. There was
hardly time to measure the significance of the signals before they were
followed by a stupendous crescendo of cannon fire, the loudest noise ever
heard on the North American Continent. Any July Fourth fireworks of fond
memory was, in comparison, merely a distant echo to the combined firepower
of one hundred seventy Confederate guns, each with some one hundred thirty
As shells descended overhead, the men of the Twentieth
hugged the ground in their little shallow ditch, and waited, and baked. In
any other time, the shade of the nearby clump of trees would have invited
some to seek refuge from the sun. But not today. Of the six thousand
infantry men waited in the Union center, some few to be the first to die
would never get up again.
The Union had only twenty-five guns in the immediate
vicinity, and no more than fifty more within range farther up and down the
line. Emerging from the woods, Pickett's men came over the low crest of
Seminary Ridge, still visible in the gathering smoke across the valley.
While the Union guns close at hand held their fire, those farther off
poured shells into the rebel brigades. For two hours the artillery hail
storm went on, relentlessly, Lee's guns bent on pulverizing the Union
artillery sufficiently to unhinge the infantry for what was to come. Black
smoke now clung to the valley floor, white smoke floated above. In the
obscurity hanging over the fields, the Virginians could not see that the
aim of many of their guns was too high. And when the Union guns fell
silent, the rebels assumed that they had done their work, not that the
Union side was conserving fuel and coaxing them to attack.
Around 3 P.M. the rebel guns fell silent; the smoke
slowly lifted. The Union line waited calmly. It almost seemed as if no one
among the thousands cared to make a sound. While the terrible din of the
world's most modern guns was still ringing in all ears, all eyes strained
to make out the form that was emerging from the haze. It would never be
forgotten. It seemed that almost everyone fortunate to see the sight and
survive that day had tried, in ensuing years, to describe this climactic
moment in their lives, this next two hours. Yet it was impossible to put
into words more than a faint suggestion of the totality.
Advancing out of the woods a mile away, the silent
formations of Pickett's, then Pettigrew's and Trimble's divisions,
thirteen thousand strong, began their passage across the soft carpet of
clover. Even before they had begun, back in the woods, Pickett's division
alone had lost five hundred men to Union artillery fire. Their colleagues
would not let them down.
They advanced in perfect precision. Such a disciplined
display of Old World rank and file would have struck some as not just
heroic, but Homeric, like something out of the Iliad. Here was surely the
last phalanx, a mile from end to end, men in lock step, in double or
triple rank, marching shoulder to shoulder. It was the South's last
display of courtly chivalry, something made the more poignantly
anachronistic, coming so soon after the world's loudest din. For now, the
ordered lines of soldiers bristling with bayoneted muskets moved as calmly
as a July Fourth parade, but the men of Dixie were not whistling Yankee
Doodle. The Union soldiers who survived it later recalled, with something
like fondness, that the magnificence of the sight almost took their breath
Silently Pickett's spearhead division of almost five
thousand Virginians advanced, a hundred yards a minute. They crossed
several fences and trampled through cornstalks. As yet the Union line
could not know what their target was to be, that Lee had chosen the only
feature in the vast featureless landscape, the clump of oak trees, just
back from the stone wall, just north of the Twentieth Massachusetts. The
clump would be the center point of the assault.
The silence continued. Below them well out in front, the
men on the Union line could see the Union sharpshooters who had gone as
far as the Emmitsburg Road, and hear the silence broken by their musket
fire, and that of the rebel skirmishers, who soon enough drove them back
to the stone wall. It could almost have seemed an episode of comic
Major General George Pickett wanted no Rebel yell until
his division was on top of the enemy. Having crossed this no man's land as
far as the Emmitsburg Road, the three brigades in his division, under
Garnett and Kemper in front, Armistead behind, approached the Union
divisions aligned south of the clump of trees, in front of the stone wall.
They were bearing down on the three brigades of Brigadier General John
Gibbon's Second Division and Stannard's Third Brigade of Major General
Abner Doubleday's Third Division, just south of Gibbon.
Gibbon rode coolly along his line, calming his men,
reminding them to be patient, take their time, and hold their fire until
the enemy was close. Then there would be time enough, he said, to fire
Just to Gibbon's left, Brigadier General George J.
Stannard's Third Brigade were increasingly unhappy with the low ground
that was their lot, and two Vermont regiments among them had decided to go
out in front of the army and secure themselves on a knoll. Here at least
was higher ground, never mind that Hancock had not ordered them there.
As soon as Pickett's men crossed the Emmitsburg Road and
saw what they faced on the hillock, with a flourish they changed
direction, moving diagonally to their left to close the gap with
Pettigrew's line. In a diagonal movement, they now headed for a point on
the Union line well to the north of Stannard's brigade. With that turn,
Union artillery from the Round Tops down the line to the left enfiladed
them all the more mercilessly. Under such punishment, the crisp geometry
of a phalanx now fractured into pieces, torn apart here, crushing together
there. Still the pieces advanced together.
It was to be Pickett against Gibbon. In just a few
moments the relentless advance of the gray division would reach the bottom
of the gentle slope up to Cemetery Ridge and break into the most famous
charge of the war. And that charge was to pit against one another two
forces who had each been hungering for a good fight for too long,
hungering with all the more intensity for having been on the sidelines not
just the day before, but the battle before, at Chancellorsville, and were
tired of it. Neither side could know the mettle of the other. The seasoned
but rested Twentieth Massachusetts faced Virginians equally seasoned,
Poised on Gibbon's left was Brigadier General William
Harrow's First Brigade of Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Minnesota
regiments; on Gibbon's center, Col. Norman J. Hall's Third Brigade, of
Massachusetts, Michigan, and New York regiments, among them the Twentieth
Massachusetts; and on Gibbon's right, Brigadier General Alexander Webb's
Second Brigade of Pennsylvania regiments, nearest the clump of trees.
Garnett's and Armistead's brigades bore down on the clump of trees, on
Webb. Kemper's brigade bore down on Harrow and Hall.
The charging Virginians erupted into gunfire. Still the
Union infantry behind the ditch and wall held their fire. Just north of
the clump of oaks, Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing of Battery A, 4th U.S.
Artillery, had wasted no time in wheeling his 3-inch ordnance rifles down
to the rail fence. For nearly a third of the way of Pickett's advance, he,
too, had held his fire, as he had only canister left and could not afford
to waste it. But the firing now came. Alonzo Cushing would fight on as his
gunners withered away, leaving him single handed and doubly wounded in the
legs. A corporal would prop him up. Like that he would fight on an hour
and a half before dying!
Nothing the artillery could do could arrest the waves of
men rushing upon the Union's center, and the casualties that now began to
mount. In the hornet's nest swarm of bullets and stray shell fragments,
Gibbon and Hancock were wounded and brought to the rear. Finding himself
alone to direct the Union response along the entire center, Colonel Hall
ordered his brigade to hold their fire until the enemy was two hundred
yards away. For a moment, they seemed to disappear into the ground, as a
low ridge in the undulating ground blocked the view. When they again
emerged, almost rising up in the grass, they now had distinct faces. When
Kemper's phalanx finally got that near, the men of the Twentieth jumped up
from their ditch and emptied their rifles into the enemy, picking out the
rebel colors first.
Many were to remember a distinct collective moan that
could be heard above the din. Few would choose to describe the shower of
arms, rifles and swords tossed up through the dust and smoke into the
clean air above. The Second Corps was pouring into the fleeing enemy ranks
the rapid and accurate fire that victorious lines always so much enjoyed.
Pounded by that repeated volley, Pickett's men, belting out the rebel
yell, moved ahead even more rapidly from behind and began to crowd in
front. They halted only to fire, but in doing so sustained heavy losses as
the wounded fell at the line's feet, halted one hundred feet from the
Union line. For a moment, their lack of advance seemed like retreat as the
line of their fallen stopped their advance on Hall's brigade.
"Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg," the men of the
Twentieth bellowed, in sweet revenge for the decimation they had suffered
at Marye's Heights the winter before.
Behind the Twentieth, men in the Nineteenth Massachusetts
heard an officer riding by on their left cry, "Forward, men! Forward! Now
is your chance!" Those who turned to look saw General Hancock.
The orderliness of the advance faded into the gathering
smoke. South of Gibbon, Stannard saw that Kemper's right flank was within
easy firing range, and thanked God for his Vermonters. On the knoll, they
wheeled perpendicularly to the north and pulverized the Twenty-Fourth
Virginia. In front, and at the Vermonters' right, the Virginian lines
fragmented. As Kemper's men began to crowd to their left into the brigades
of Garnett and Armistead, Kemper meant to point his sword due east, but
inadvertently pointed it north, at the very moment that a bullet lodged
near his spine. His men were left to misunderstand his intention, and
continued to crowd north. All the pressure of the charge was being
concentrated into one hopelessly small space, and the Virginians were now
packed fifteen to thirty men deep.
But wait. Hall noticed a breach to the right of his line,
where there was only a rail fence. Webb's brigade, the one next to Hall's,
was fracturing! Baxter's Seventy-Second Pennsylvania Volunteers were
falling back! At the head of Pickett's Virginians, Brigadier General Lewis
Armistead, waving his hat on the tip of his sword, was heading for one of
Cushing's guns which he was to clutch at the moment of his death. Seeing
the breach, and their leader's gallantry, the enemy again took heart and
pushed forward along the whole line, renewing the rebel yell. Garnett, in
close pursuit of Armistead, was never seen again; only his blood covered
black charger returned, riderless. By now perhaps one hundred Virginians
poured into the tiny breach.
Hall immediately ordered Lieutenant Colonel Macy to fall
back far enough to form another line and flank the breach, but under heavy
fire it was almost impossible. There was congestion in front at the fence,
and the men of the Massachusetts got mixed up with the troops already
there. The Virginians advancing on the Twentieth had no way of falling
back, as their fellows crowded up from behind. The Twentieth were two
files deep instead of one. Men were so crowded that they were reloading
without any longer being able to step back, as they had been able to do
moments before. They were all crowded at the epicenter.
It was 5 P.M. For ten minutes it went on like that. By
simultaneous effort on the part of all the officers Hall could instruct,
his line was locked with the enemy, the lines close enough to see each
other through thick smoke.
Macy waited until the enemy reached the clump of oak
trees before giving orders to Captain Abbott and his Adjutant for the
Twentieth to fire toward their right. But before the orders could be
repeated to anyone else, both Macy and his Adjutant were shot down. In
that moment, Macy lost his hand, but not his head.
Now came total confusion. It was up to Captain Abbott to
take over. For the moment, he still had his junior officers, among them
Lieutenant Paine. Abbott knew orders could not be heard above the din, but
an example could be seen. So he rushed to the breach, one of the first
Union men there, and it was just in time. Following Abbott's lead, Paine
and Summerhayes and Hibbard and the other lieutenants, mindless of field
formations, dodged their way through the tangle toward the clump of trees.
Others followed instinctively, crying "Forward the white trefoil!" and
"Clubs are trumps!" as the tattered Second Corps flags with the white
badge was brought up. Webb's regiment was closing the breach from the
other side, north of the clump of trees, near an angle in the stone wall.
Abbott's and Webb's men soon formed a rough semicircle in front of the
Pickett's men were already thirty to forty yards past the
fence and in the copse, jammed there in every conceivable position of
firing and reloading. The opposing forces were almost indistinguishable in
their cover of powder and dust from head to toe. In places they were six
men deep on each side.
For thirty minutes that seemed like hours, there was
desperate hand to hand fighting, the thud of musket butts, the silent
thrust of bayonets, the clang of swords, the shouts, the cries, the
curses, the grimaces, the clenched teeth, the powder-blackened faces, amid
the relentless dull roar, as groups were fragmented out of any semblance
of textbook formation. There was the explosion of Confederate artillery
fire directed at the clump of trees, heedless of friend or foe, and the
Twentieth Massachusetts took the brunt of it.
Word had come haphazardly that Lee's right was in
retreat, and that had cheered on the Second Corps. Those lucky enough to
hear of it pressed with renewed will back to the stone wall. Union
regiments in the rear fired through their own line in eagerness to hit
rebs in front.
It was around 5:30 P.M. Lieutenant Perkins saw Lieutenant
Paine out in front of Company A, brandishing his pistol as he was making
his way to the right, along the fence to a place where the rails had not
been removed, fifteen rods from their makeshift breastwork. Behind lay the
remnants of Cushing's and Brown's batteries. Paine pushed on, though he
may have lost his pistol, and got within fifteen yards from the clump of
"Isn't this glorious!" he shouted. Summerhayes, who was
near enough to hear him, noticed that his face seemed to be glowing.
Heedless of exposure, deaf to the whizzes of miniť balls flying past, he
seemed to display only enthusiasm to his men, and to feel it inwardly,
intoxicated with a stimulant made for the occasion, the joy of battle.
Brandishing his sword, Sumner again waved his men
forward. Sergeant Hanscom and his men were following some feet behind.
Suddenly he was jolted by pain in the foot. A piece of
shell or case had ripped through his ankle, almost snapping the foot clear
from the leg. He fell to his knees. Glancing at him, but not hearing him
say anything, Lieutenant Hibbard moved on with the men. Sumner could not
get up. His men had to see him!
Marshalling all his strength, he raised himself on his
left elbow. With the free arm waving his sword, he called out one more
time, "Forward, forward!" Before he could bark out anything else, he was
struck by two bullets, in the arm and the heart.
Company A pressed on. One among them, Private William
Armstrong, saw Sumner fall, in front of his men. As the company went by,
Armstrong saw the sword and the arm that gripped it lying still, so close
to the clump of trees, fifteen feet from the rail fence, where the rebels
had been held at their farthest point of advance. That was where Sumner
lay, as close as any man could be to the center of things.
Most of Twentieth who fell that day fell at that critical
spot, in a line not fifteen feet from the rebel line.
General Webb of the Philadelphia Brigade gave full credit
for saving the day to Hall's Brigade, after his own men had run away.
Imperturbable Meade rode by, asking, "How is it going
here?" When told the rebs were in full flight, he said, almost in
disbelief, "Thank God" and hurrahed.
Fourteen hundred rebs threw down their colors, their
arms, and surrendered. Others were chased back as far as the Emmitsburg
road and captured along the way. Soon, all was quiet in the clump of
trees, a landmark never to be forgotten. No other clump of trees could
ever mean as much.
Lee's supreme effort, left, right, and center, had ended
in incalculable losses to his army. Lee never allowed Pickett's report of
his losses--he lost over half his men--to see the light of day. The
afternoon's tidal wave of violence that had left over fifty thousand dead
and wounded on both sides was soon dubbed the High Water Mark for the
Captain Abbott found himself in command of the regiment.
As he walked over the ground strewn with broken bodies and the detritus of
war left by the ebb of that heroic wave, he found Sumner where he had
fallen, flat on his back. His expression was calm and natural. His sword
was by his side, but his pistol was gone. Abbott saw to the burial.
On July 4, a blurring drizzle of rain rinsed the blood
from the trampled grass, and soaked unburied bodies through their sodden
uniforms. The bodies of five thousand horses and mules lay like the
boulders strewn over the Round Tops. A deafening silence had drowned out
the last echo of the previous day's collective agony. Now, the mute and
muddy business of burying made its slow advance where not twenty-four
hours before there had been the war's most desperate charge.
Sustaining the greatest losses of any regiment in this,
the war's bloodiest battle, the Twentieth Massachusetts lost three
officers killed, eight wounded out of thirteen. Of 231 enlisted men, 21
were killed, 90 wounded, and 6 missing, its share of the fifty-one
thousand casualties shared by North and South. By war's end the Harvard
Regiment stood fifth among the nearly two thousand regiments in losses.
Sumner's family received the sad news on July 6. Pat
Jackson, a second cousin, sent a telegram from Baltimore:
BALTO.VIA.NY. JULY SIXTH. O.W.HOLMES. CHARLES STREET.
BOST. SUMNER PAINE IS KILLED CERTAINLY. P.T.JACKSON.
Charles Jackson Paine heard of his brother Sumner's death
on the front, and on August 8 returned from New Orleans on furlough.
Their father had immediately dashed off letters to any
officer who could shed light on Sumner's last moments. There were few
Lieutenant Colonel George N. Macy, who had lost his hand
at Gettysburg, on July 23, wrote that "the ability and tact of your
son surprised all. He was as brave in battle as he was honorable and
companionable in camp."
Captain Henry L. Abbott, who had shared quarters with
Sumner and really gotten to know him well, sent two letters, on July 13
and 28. "As an officer he was as promising as any that has ever
entered the regiment. Short time as he was with us, he was generally
considered fitter to command a company than one half of the old officers.
The loss of your son, and Ropes, considered merely as officers, is
irreparable. You have the full consolation of knowing that Sumner has kept
up the glory of the name he bears, since no man could be more capable and
faithful in camp or more devotedly courageous in the field."
His fellow officers felt he had "won their
admiration by his really wonderful pluck and talent."
"There is one thing I can bear testimony to, and that is
your son's wonderful talent in making himself one of the most accomplished
officers I knew in the army, in two months' time. Colonel Hall, our
brigade commander, tells me that it was not wonderful to him after knowing
his brother at West Point. His memory and application were so great that
in a month's time he knew the whole of the book of tactics and regulations
and commanded a division in battalion and brigade drill as well as any old
officer, besides doing all his guard and police duty, with an exactness, a
vigor, an enthusiasm that the commanding officer in vain tried to
stimulate in some of the older officers, sparing neither himself nor his
men. When Lieutenant Paine was officer of the guard, his influence was
felt by the remotest sentinel on the outskirts of the town. His
intelligence and discipline and indomitable resolution were so fully
recognized by Colonel Macy that he often spoke of promoting him over
nearly all the other 2nd Lieutenants, in fact over all with the exception
"Besides Lieutenant Summerhayes who saw him as I have
described, he was seen by Lieutenant Perkins during the action, his face
according to both actually glowing with pleasure, as it used to in
Falmouth when he had the best of an argument.
"He used always to be asking me, how an officer should
bear himself in battle, when he should be behind and when before his men.
I had always rather understated than overstated the amount of danger it
was necessary to incur, because I had seen at Fredericksburg that he would
be rather disposed to expose himself too much than otherwise. He certainly
carried out to the letter the duty, as he used to describe it, of an
officer charging at the head of his men and evidently felt all the joy
that he supposed he should."
Abbott repeated these opinions to his own father, a Judge
in Lowell, Massachusetts. Lieutenant Paine was "one of the finest
officers I have ever seen, though only 17 years of age."
Finally, Lieutenant Lansing E. Hibbard wrote on July
17. "My brother officer's career as an officer was short but he proved
himself worthy of his positions endearing himself to his brother officers
by his many great qualities. He had proved himself a brave and efficient
officer. While deeply sympathizing with the loss of such a son we have the
consolation of knowing that he fell bravely fighting for the Union. I was
quite near him at the time he was wounded in the leg which I considered
not mortal and as it required all the endeavors of the officers to cheer
on the men I only glanced at him and passed on to my duties (I was wounded
at the time)."
Sumner's officers and comrades had all served longer than
he, and all but one outlived him. Here was the roster:
Col. Norman J. Hall: Health failed after Gettysburg,
died in 1869, aged about 30. West Point Class of '59.
Col. Paul J. Revere: Died of wounds, July 4, 1863,
age 30, after promotion from rank of Major held since inception of
Twentieth, July 1, 1861. Harvard Class of '52. Namesake of his patriot
Lieutenant Colonel George N. Macy: promoted July 5,
1863 to Colonel, mustered out July 16, 1865 after four years of
service ending as Brigadier General and begun as First Lieutenant,
July 10, 1861 at age 23.
Major Henry L. Abbott: promoted May 1, 1863; killed
in the Wilderness, May 6, 1864, age 22. Began as Second Lieutenant,
July 10, 1861. Harvard Class of '60.
Captain William F. Perkins: promoted April 12, 1863,
discharged November 4, 1864. Began as Second Lieutenant January 16,
1862, age 21.
Captain John W. Summerhayes: discharged June 6, 1865,
having seen rapid promotion in 1863--to Sergeant Major January 1, to
Second Lieutenant March 14, to First Lieutenant April 12, and to
Captain May 1.
Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr: discharged July
17, 1864; wounded three times; read about Gettysburg while
convalescing in Boston. Promoted March 23, 1862 after serving as First
Lieutenant commissioned July 10, 1861. Went on to become distinguished
jurist overshadowing even his father. Harvard Class of '61.
First Lieutenant Henry Ropes: killed July 3, 1863,
age 24, after 20 months' service begun as Second Lieutenant, November
25, 1861. Harvard Class of '62.
First Lieutenant Lansing E. Hibbard: killed May 10,
1864, age 24, at the Wilderness. Began as Sergeant, August 31,
First Lieutenant Charles Cowgill: commissioned Second
Lieutenant December 14, 1862, promoted May 16, 1863; resigned March 9,
1864. From Dover, Delaware.